I was in Baltimore for a project this week and I had an opportunity to meet a friend halfway for dinner. He’s a new friend who had no idea how much I love craft beer and he picked this place! I must be living right to have a plan come together so brilliantly. My tasting notes are a bit short simply because we were talking while I was tasting. All and all I loved this place – great beer and good food (I had the crab cakes and the red snapper fish and chips). Read to the end for my impression of their Saison. You know how much I love that style of beer and this was one of the best I’ve had.
Dirty Little Blonde Lager – a lot of grain. As the lightest beer on the menu, this is usually the one that renders images of macro beers in our heads. While this brew would appeal to any light beer drinker, the taste of grain (i.e., bread) really stood out and it was a nice change from the thin, watery beer we typically get in a brewpub lager.
Highway to Helles – sweet, flowers, strong wheat – to the point of floral. Thick, good mouthfeel, unfiltered. Grassy. Quite good. Almost Belgian. Very traditional. The website calls it a Maibock.
I have never used the term grassy before but my friend had a card that he carries around in his wallet with keywords to use when describing beer. Check it out.
So, the grassy flavor must be coming from the Noble Hops. Cool!
Annapolis Rocks Pale Ale – I’m assuming this is their flagship beer. It has just enough hops which of course is the distinguishing characteristic of an American Pale Ale (over a British pale ale like Bass). There’s nothing unique here but that isn’t to say that it isn’t well done. I think the hardest thing to do in microbrewing these days is to simply stick to the traditional recipe. I’d put this Pale Ale up as a great representation of the standard down to the temperature it was served at. I hate it when beer is served too cold. To get all the flavors out of this one, I appreciated the fact that it was served at the proper temp.
Tuscarora Red Ale – malty, not hoppy, good balance. Could drink this one all night. I typically drink the sampler in the order it was given to me and this was where I made a mistake. I didn’t realize the ESB was going to be hoppy (a pleasant surprise). So, if you’re following along at the bar, I would put the Red before the Pale Ale.
Shown here with the ESB following the Pale Ale. Agreed. Though I would do the Red before the Pale Ale just because I don’t like to switch back and forth between malty and hoppy.
Hoptopsy ESB – hoppy. Really hoppy. They say in the notes, ‘ESB with an American twist.’ 40 ibu’s – highest on the menu. Also highest abv at 6.6%. What I like most about this is they took the British/American difference with the hops in a Pale Ale and extended it into the classic English Extra Special Bitter. I’m glad I didn’t read the name of the beer prior to trying it or I might have been turned off by the concept. I loved it though. ESB’s are coming into their own across the US and I have to say that as a hop head, I hope to see more American craft brewers upping the ibu’s (a measure of hop bitterness) in their ESB recipes.
Schifferstadt Stout – alcohol notes. There’s something different about it and all I can point to is the esters (called astringency in their notes). Lots of coffee. Delicious. The color was good and it didn’t border on a porter. I would love to see them get creative with this recipe but that’s just because I’m tired of coffee/chocolate stouts. It rounded out the sampler nicely and that’s why even though there is no hop bitterness in a stout, I always end with it. Stouts for me are the quintessential dessert beer.
Sugarloaf Saison – sour and pepper. Perfection. So many don’t put the sour into this style which is heresy but here they are not scared of the sour and that is what this style requires. The best American version I’ve had to date.
This was not on the tasting menu as it had just been replaced by the Helles. It’s interesting that they called this their Spring seasonal as I thought Saisons were traditionally a late summer beer – a farmhouse ale served to the workers after they harvested the fields. Admittedly, I think Oktoberfests have stolen the show that time of year, so I’m on board with introducing people to this style in the Spring where it can take center stage and as it turns out, a “prinetemps” (how they describe it on their website) is indeed a Spring Saison. A bit more research and I discovered that barley can be sown in the UK in either the Autumn or the Spring and it is the Spring varieties that are used for malting! Learning is delicious.
The sampler was only $3 and to try the Saison was another $0.50. That is the cheapest sampler I think I’ve ever encountered and I had a lot of fun with this one. While I wouldn’t call sour a negative flavor at all, here’s the other side of that card my friend carries.